Beginning a two-part story that examines the fall-out of the revelation of Jeremiah Arkham as the newest Black Mask, David Hine and Jeremy Haun return to the character that they’ve worked on in “Battle for the Cowl: Arkham Asylum” and “Arkham Reborn” after Greg Rucka’s Batwoman run in the title ended last issue. However, the Greg Rucka/Cully Hamner “Question” co-feature continues here, giving the title some stability with the change of creative team and focus.
Hine’s writing in the main story is very solid, as he has Arkham narrate as he learns what it’s like to live in Arkham Asylum as a patient. His voice is cold and somewhat twisted, not entirely divorced from his Black Mask persona as he’d like everyone to think he is. One scene where a fellow patient explains that every day from now on, Arkham will be eating food containing various bodily fluids from the various patients he oversaw for years shows how Arkham could be the Black Mask. His response is cold, methodical, and utterly cruel in its threat of violence. The plot picks up when one of the Black Mask’s loose ends attracts Batman’s attention and he’s forced to deal with Arkham to save a man’s life. Except Arkham apparently has no knowledge of his time as the Black Mask.
Batman’s interactions with Arkham are well-written with Batman goading Arkham with Arkham knowing exactly what the hero is doing. However, even knowing that, Batman still manages to get under Arkham’s skin and manipulate him, showing that Arkham isn’t as in control as he thinks. It’s a clever scene that sets up the odd, shocking cliffhanger.
I’ve been a fan of Jeremy Haun’s art going back to his “Paradigm” days, but his work here is disappointing. It’s rougher and sketchier, which does match Arkham’s mental state, but also looking less refined and polished than Haun’s art normally is. The opening pages especially look radically different from his usual work, more in the vein of Sean Phillips and Jock’s work, but, while two great artists to pattern art after, this style isn’t as developed for Haun as his regular style is. His art does have an unsettling feeling to it, using fish-eyed close-ups throughout for a good effect.
The issue’s co-feature continues the Question and Huntress’s efforts to stop a human smuggling ring as they come into contact with its leader: Vandal Savage. The two of them don’t exactly look like matches for Savage, but Rucka and Hamner come up with some inventive ways for them to stay one step ahead of the immortal. However, the tone of this story and the lead are somewhat at odds, particularly visually where Dave McCaig’s bright, clear colors on “The Question” clash somewhat with David Baron’s subdued, muted, dark colors in the lead story. Without the uniform writing of Rucka to bridge the gap, the dissonance between lead and back-up is noticeable.
That said, this issue of “Detective Comics” follows up on a logical point with Jeremiah Arkham as the Black Mask, exploring how to reconcile that idea with the Arkham that’s been a feature in the Bat-titles for years. It’s a solid issue with some clever writing in places.